In the Wake of Zoom: Microsoft Teams Phone

April 18, 2020

Google is emulating the Zoom interface. Microsoft is converting Teams into a phone system. Me too is alive and well. “How to Deploy Microsoft Phone System with Teams” is easy, according to the 24 minute instructional video. Lashing these two systems together requires a Microsoft 365 account. Just purchase a business voice plan for about $150 per year. Set up a Virtual User. Fill in personal details. Plug in payment data. Add users and provide more personal information. Review the licenses available. Now you can upgrade to Teams, and you are about 25 percent through the video lesson.

For comparison, Zoom’s phone is immediately available after receiving an invitation and joining the meeting.

People working at home with basic computer skills will find the procedure interesting. Good enough for today’s WFH professional. Oh, at the 11 minute mark the Teams Phone system was not responding. Call the company’s system administrator. Oh, snap, quarantine. Time to walk the dog.

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2020

Boat Anchor Productivity: The Mac Edition

November 14, 2019

Most of the young sprouts I see at Starbuck’s are using mobile phones. Nevertheless, the information in “IBM: Mac Users Are Happier and More Productive” explains that joy for IBM employees is available at the Apple store. The write up states:

IBM CIO Fletcher Previn talked up fresh IBM findings that show those of its employees who use Macs are more likely to stay with IBM and exceed performance expectations compared to PC users.

How happy? The write up reports:

MacOS users are happier with the third-party software availability within IBM — just 5% of MacOS users ask for additional software, compared to 11% of Windows users.

Sounds Garageband good. Now about:

  • The weird controls in Garageband for audio recording
  • The thrill of learning that Apple updates alter MIDI settings
  • The ecosystem weirdness of some apps in the Apple store and other apps available from vendors
  • The incredible performance degradation of apps like iTunes over time.

Yep, nothing but thrills DarkCyber like happy IBM professionals. Why aren’t these folks using IBM computers with OS/2?

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2019

Google UX: Some Interfaces Are Little Bafflers

March 13, 2018

I  read “What Google Is Learning about User Experience.” I am delighted that a giant company is “learning.”

I noted this statement:

Josh Lewandowski, lead UX researcher at YouTube, said he asks himself two questions each day he comes into work:

  • “What are the desires, needs, and problems our users have that we should be anticipating?”
  • “Once we know what those are, what’s the best way to solve for them?

Interesting. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google’s user interfaces have some pock marks. There are confusing functions; for example, upload a video to YouTube. There are boxes in which one can describe the video. None of the boxes provides a maximum word count. Careless or indifference? I don’t know.

On my Android phone Google Play insists that I turn on certain features. I don’t want these features. The controls for Android OS no longer allow me to turn off updates to apps I never use. I cannot disable the annoying and distracting message about Google Play having a problem. Careless, indifference, or a larger plan to remove user controls.

In Google’s Gmail, I find it fascinating that I have to click to see my email, not just the default listing. Even better is that there are no controls to make it easy to delete junk. Even the hapless BlackBerry I had years ago, make it easy to clean up an email in box. BlackBerry!

For more words and promises, be sure to read the complete article. Do it on your mobile phone for the full experience.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2018

Search System from UAEU Simplifies Life Science Research

December 21, 2017

Help is on hand for scientific researchers tired of being bogged down in databases in the form of a new platform called Biocarian. The Middle East’s reports, “UAEU Develops New Search Engine for Life Sciences.” Semantic search is the key to the more efficient and user-friendly process. Writer Mark Sutton reports:

The UAEU [United Arab Emirages University] team said that Biocarian was developed to address the problem of large and complex data bases for healthcare and life science, which can result in researchers spending more than a third of their time searching for data. The new search engine users Semantic Web technology, so that researchers can easily create targeted searches to find the data they need in a more efficient fashion. … It allows complex queries to be constructed and entered, and offers additional features such as the capacity to enter ‘facet values’ according to specific criteria. These allow users to explore collated information by applying a range of filters, helping them to find what they are looking for quicker.

Project lead Nazar Zaki expects that simplifying the search process will open up this data to many talented researchers (who don’t happen to also be computer-science experts), leading to significant advances in medicine and healthcare. See the article for on the Biocarian platform.

Cynthia Murrell, December 21, 2017

Immersive Search: A MSFT Me Too, Me Too?

November 28, 2017

We noted “New Windows Search Interface Borrows Heavily from MacOS.” If true, the approach is little more than MSFT’s putting search results in the center of the display screen. Instead of “me too, me too”, MSFT may call this innovation “immersive search.” A great advance. Why not let me decide where to display search results?

Stephen E Arnold, November 28, 2017

UX (That Means Interface) Excitement

November 9, 2017

I read an article in Thread Reader. The first person essay titled I think “Graviscera.” In theory, you can find the story at the link provided in the previous sentence.

The subject of the write up is the UX or what oldsters like me call an “interface.” The concept is simple, but like most digital thingies, it is a challenge to some. My father, before he died, struggled with using a mouse. He was a keyboard type of person. I find that I am okay with a mouse, but every once in a while, I long for XyWrite III+. IBM bought this fine word processors and, well, you can pretty much figure out the fate of that nifty, speedy piece of code.

In Graviscera, a person with a strong sense of what works expresses opinions about a number of the silly, perhaps stupid, interfaces foisted on users. I enjoyed the write up because it has oomph.

Here are three points, and I urge you to read the full essay. If you are under the age of 35, you will probably disagree with the ideas in the essay. If you are a bit older, you may recall keyboard centric and command line interfaces which did not require moving a cursor to and fro or putting a large finger on a Lilliputian icon in order to view a document. Believe me, old fingers and tiny icons on a zippy mobile phone can frustrate even a manic Facebook user or twitchy tweeter.

Now the three points I highlighted with an old fashioned orange marker:

  1. Google Maps is unusable. Yep, Graviscera nailed it. I am not sure what the Googlers are trying to accomplish with maps, but performing certain operations is impossible for Graviscera and me. Don’t believe me. Try to figure out what’s on a route from a mobile version of Google Maps. Give up? Now try the same thing on a desktop version of Google Maps. Give up? I have. As miserable as Bing is, I find its mapping function slightly less worse than Google’s.
  2. Use a mouse to view Twitter content. Graviscera points out that a keyboard interface would make life easier. That’s true. The low contrast of Twitter adds an additional usability challenge. Those with perfect eyesight probably love the mousing around thing on pale blue text. Well, I don’t, and Graviscera seems likely to agree.
  3. Keyboards and function keys work for many applications. Graviscera nails this. The focus is on point of sale terminals. But there are many applications which would benefit from consistent keyboard functions. Even the crazy IBM keyboard with the two dozen function keys were easier to operate than some mobile interfaces. Graviscera does not mention Fitbit, but I think it is a poster child for mobile wonkiness.

I recommend that you read Graviscera. Let me conclude with this quote from the write up:

Nobody will agree with me, citing anecdotes and examples that are meaningless in the current zeitgeist.

No need to fret. I agree with you.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2017

My Feed Personalization a Step Too Far

September 8, 2017

In an effort to be even more user-friendly and to further encourage a narcissistic society, Google now allows individuals to ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’ topics, delivered daily to devices, as they deem them interesting or uninteresting. SEJ explains the new feature which is considered an enhancement of their ‘my feed’ which is intended to personalize news.

As explained in the article,

Further advancements to Google’s personalized feed include improved machine learning algorithms, which are said to be more capable at anticipating what an individual may find interest. In addition to highlighting stories around manually and algorithmically selected topics of interest, the feed will also display stories trending in your area and around the world.

That seems like a great way to keep people current on topics ranging geographically, politically and culturally, but with the addition of ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’, once again, individuals can reduce their world to a series of pop-star updates and YouTube hits. Isn’t it an oxymoron to both suggest topics and stories in an effort to keep an individual informed of the world around them, and yet allow them to stop the suggestions are they appear boring or lack familiarity? Now, Google, you can do better.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 15, 2017

Google Announces a Mobile-Friendly Change in the Works

August 29, 2017

As more consumers use their Smart Phones and similar devices for everyday internet activity, Google is changing – once again – how search is done. To accommodate mobile users the tech giant just announced that it will begin transitioning to a mobile first index. What does this mean for the average website holder?

According to the guys at Business2Community, it could mean a lot of change is needed to remain competitive. They give several tidbits of advice to website owners but one of the most indicative of how our virtual world is changing is this:

…the consensus is now to have a single website that can work across all devices. Search results aside, a mobile responsive site is one of the best things you can build for your small business, as it is a more accessible and user-friendly way for your potential customers to access your business on a mobile device. With increasing numbers of searches conducted on mobile, by not having a mobile or mobile responsive site, you’re missing out on a large amount of possible conversions…

Of course, Google swears its crawlers will still recognize desktop versions of websites if no mobile is available, but we must ask ourselves, how long until that changes as well?

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 29, 2017

Web Search Training Wheels: A Play for Precision

August 10, 2017

I read “How to Instantly Boost the Accuracy of Search Results on Google and Bing.” i love the word “instantly”, particularly when coupled to “accuracy.” The write up describes an overlay called Advangle, which helps a person create a search with more than 2.6 words. Interesting neologism Advangle.

These services are what I call “training wheels.” The idea is that a person looking for information fills in a form, which helps the person create a query more sophisticated than “pizza.” Many systems in the last 50 years have tried these types of interfaces. In fact, one can find them in the whiz bang interfaces available to cyber OSINT software users. I won’t drag the old Dow Jones interface into this post, nor will I provide screenshots of Palantir Gotham interfaces. (Hey, you probably know about these already.)

The write up, however, does not explore the concept in too much detail. I noted this statement:

The Advantage interface makes it easier to string together targeted searches with the right syntax, and in half the time it would take to type it all out by hand.

Saving time, not prediction or recall, is the unique selling proposition.

It is useful to keep in mind that formal search operators are still available to users of Bing, Google, Yandex, and a number of other systems. The problem is that as Web search has massified, a tiny faction of the users of ad supported Web search systems bother with formal operators like filetype: or other oddities.

The real problems with search are far deeper than an interface overlay. Let me highlight several which I find consistently troublesome:

  1. Finding a way to impart the skills of well executed reference interview conducted by an expert in online search and retrieval. (Marydee Ojala, Ruth Patel, Anne Mintz, Ulla de Stricker, and Barbara Quint are individuals who can help a PhD formulate a statement of what information and data are needed, convert that desire into appropriate queries of appropriate databases, and deliver a filtered list of results.) Software, no matter how nifty the interface, at this time cannot replicate this expertise.
  2. Individuals who need information are more crippled than their counterparts from 30 years ago. Online systems have worked hard to let popularity and past user behavior provide a context for a query like “cyrus.” If you think you will get the pop star before a long dead historical figure, you are more sophisticated than the eager consumers of pop up ads on a Pixel phone
  3. Databases are governed by editorial policies. In the good old days of 1975, creators of databases figured out what and how to index. Today most users believe that Google has “all” the world’s information. Nothing could be more wrong headed. Indexes, particularly free ones, include what creates traffic. If the content gets a little too frisky, censorship, filtering, and smart / predictive software steps in and delivers “better” information.

I suggest you give the Advantage service a try. You may find that it is better than a room stuffed with Quints and Ojalas and others of this ilk.

My approach is simple: Know what one wants. Formulate a suitable query. Pass the query across the sources/databases likely to have indexed the information. Review the results. Think about the information gaps. Repeat the process.

Pretty crazy today, right?

Who has time to figure out what companies are in the cyber OSINT business or what Dark Web sites continue to offer contraband in the wake of AlphaBay and Hansa.

Research via digital resources, unlike checking Facebook, is a bit of a mental workout.

On the other hand, why not let the ad supported search engines deliver exactly what they think you need. Better yet, let these outfits provide that information before you know you need it.

A system that actually delivered precise, on point, timely, and authoritative results would be great. It would be nice to be able to live forever and travel to the stars.

Reality is a tad different. UX is not yet a replacement for knowing how to research in a way that moves beyond finding Game of Thrones.

Stephen E Arnold, August 10, 2017

Break into Netflixs Stockroom with This Chrome Extension

June 1, 2017

The article titled Search Hidden Netflix Categories and Save Your Favorites With This Extension on LifeHacker calls attention to Netflix’s treasure trove of hidden category codes. Using Netflix often feels like a very limited exercise, especially if you don’t use the DVD service. But part of that is because Netflix is only showing you titles based on what it thinks you will like. The algorithm has its perks, but it can also become a spiral of narrowing cultural interests. The article illumines,

Netflix has a ton of hidden categories codes you can use to find movies and shows you’re into. The aptly-named Chrome extension Netflix Categories helps you find and save the ones you like. The extension adds a button to your Chrome menu bar. Click it and you’ll see a drop down list of categories that you might not find on the Netflix site proper. You can search the categories by name to find something more specific.

What sort of categories are available? Everything under the sun, from “Movies for ages 0 to 2” to “Film Noir” to “Military Documentaries” to “Belgian Movies” to “Korean TV Shows.” These categories offer a great way to branch out and be exposed to content that might unlock new interests. Or they can help to pinpoint an area of interest and see everything that Netflix has to offer on the subject. At any rate, it is a helpful tool to navigate Netflix’s full inventory.

Chelsea Kerwin, June 1, 2017

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